Jim Foy, chief executive of Aspect, talks to CBR about the future of unified communications and collaboration.
Q Is unified communications (UC) an area that companies invest in during a recession, or is it something that is put off until budgets are less tight?
A I think the answer is there’s no simple answer. Some people see this as an opportunity and a way to get more for less, and others don’t get it and will be slow to accept it and need to be convinced by seeing proof points.
Q In terms of proof points, is UC something with a clear ROI to help convince companies to invest during tough times?
A For Aspect it’s extremely easy to show ROI. We implemented UC internally worldwide. We realised UC was going to be a game changer, and we realised we needed to quickly become experts in implementing it and we did that internally very successfully and can point to operational cost savings. We saw a return on capital investment in six months and of course there are productivity gains.
Q What’s the business driver for companies to adopt UC?
A Any company of any note is considering it. Why do they do it? It’s all about how they can run their existing businesses more economically: taking out telecoms, use instant messaging, communicating with key partners more effectively…It means you don’t need to maintain PBXs or pay huge consultancy fees to service partners. It’s just maths. Arithmetic.
Although that aspect is important, what a lot of business executives say is that this is the tip of the iceberg. What’s really important is reaching out into the enterprise to modify and develop business processes and make them more competitive. You can’t make your company more competitive by saving on operational costs but you can by modifying business processes.
I’m looking at my computer right now and I have a window telling me the availability of people I talk to often: people at Micrososft, Aspect, key partners and I can see who’s available. There’s complete transparency and I could send one of them an instant message right now without interrupting our conversation or ask them to join our conversation. There’s enormous power in this, but it’s an enormous cultural shift. However, it’s very easy to adapt. We thought we’d have to prepare our workforce for the change, so we set up an elaborate training programme but found it was unnecessary, people got it straight away.
Q How does social media fit into the world of UC?
A Social networking is all about communication. It’s powerful because very quickly you can assess the impact of decisions. So if you have 20,000 followers and just 5% give you feedback on a tweet in five minutes that’s super influential.
Q What about collaboration?
A It’s a buzzword but it’s a living and breathing one. You can’t talk about UC without collaboration. It’s about how to make groups more effective it’s not about personal productivity. We see this as significant. In January, we acquired consulting company Quilogy that specialises in providing collaborative services. One of the most successful collaborative technologies is SharePoint. It’s Microsoft’s most rapidly growing product in the world.
Q So are you in the UC or collaboration market?
A We describe ourselves as in the UC and collaboration space. Collaboration has become more appreciated in the last two years and picked up speed in last nine months or so. Collaboration without UC is a difficult concept: you really get most out of it if you tie in collaboration into UC.
Q Cisco is saying that video is going to be huge, do you agree with that assessment?
A There are super high spec video conferencing systems that are a $1m investment in each location, and boy are they impressive, but they are hugely expensive so not a broad solution. But with things like Microsoft Round Table, you can collaborate and it has voice sensing so the camera picks up on the person talking. We use it all the time. So yes, video conferencing is a part of the UC world, but for most companies, it’s going to be difficult to justify the investment currently.
Q You are big players in the contact centre market, what trends do you see in that market?
A Contact centres are basically the killer application for UC. They are about linking together the enterprise with customers. My belief is that the contact centre will essentially be subsumed into the enterprise. Within the next decade, we won’t talk about contact centres because they will be part of the business.